DAN BICKLEY

Arizona Coyotes new owner bringing exhilarating feeling to Valley

Aug 1, 2019, 5:02 PM | Updated: Aug 2, 2019, 11:32 am
(Twitter Photo/@ArizonaCoyotes)...
(Twitter Photo/@ArizonaCoyotes)
(Twitter Photo/@ArizonaCoyotes)

On his first official day at work, Alex Meruelo hit for the cycle: He vowed to win a Stanley Cup. He vowed to keep the Coyotes in Arizona. As the NHL’s first Hispanic owner, he accepted and answered questions in Spanish. And then he cussed during his introductory press conference.

The ‘B’ stands for billionaire. And for bleep.

This is obviously heady stuff for the Coyotes, a hockey franchise that has languished in the depths of purgatory for too long. And Meruelo said all the right things.

“What kid does not want to own a sports team, right?” he said. “Either you want to play for a sports team or you want to own a sports team. It’s been a dream of mine since I was six, eight years old.”

To the contrary, I’ve never met or hung out with a kid hell-bent on becoming a sports owner. That Meruelo has can be construed as a good thing, proof that he’ll care deeply about his record, the wins and the trophies accumulated, not just profit accrued. Or so we hope.

“From a day-to-day standpoint, we’re no longer in the survival business,” team CEO Ahron Cohen said. “You’ve already seen (his willingness to spend). The Phil Kessel trade. This is not just lip service. He’s already gone out and proven he’s willing to take us to the next level.”

General Manager John Chayka echoed those sentiments in a different way, calling the addition of Meruelo’s personal fortune a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“I want to win,” Meruelo said. “I’ve committed to the team and to the coach. I want to do everything I can to give the financial resources and support to win a Stanley Cup.”

Meruelo’s official introduction caps a crazy surge of evolution in the Valley.

The Suns have overhauled their roster and hired a well-established head coach. The Cardinals parlayed the No. 1 pick in the draft into Kyler Murray, Kliff Kingsbury and a team that has captivated the NFL. The Diamondbacks shined at the Major League Baseball trade deadline, buying and selling, peddling their ace and their best prospect, gaining a brand new future in return. And now the Coyotes have their financial savior.

Why should he be any different from the previous investors who racked up huge financial losses?

“I was told the same thing when I bought my first casino in Reno,” Meruelo said. “I was told by the mayor and four casino owners I would never make it work. The property was losing $30 million a year and I wouldn’t last a year. They were all wrong. I’ve been there eight years and have the most profitable casino in Reno.”

The world has changed dramatically. There was a time when Nevada and gambling were taboo, the third rail of professional sports. The fear of scandals, point-shaving and game-throwing was a shadowy, powerful deterrent. Not anymore. Las Vegas has a swag hockey team. The city of Henderson is currently trying to steal the Diamondbacks from Arizona, and have had previous conversations with our baseball franchise. And now a casino boss is running an NHL team.

It’s the break the Coyotes have been waiting for, but finding a permanent home in metropolitan Phoenix is no guarantee. I’ve heard whispers that new ownership would be granted one full year to make that happen or NHL relocation wheels start turning for good. But that was before the announcement of Meruelo, and the timetable/parameters may have changed.

Let’s hope that everything we once knew about the Coyotes officially ended on Meruelo’s first day of work.

“He’s made it very clear he’s not interested in second. He’s not interested in fifth,” Chayka said. “He has one thing in mind.”

Could we be so lucky? This much is certain:

The Coyotes no longer have payroll issues. But until the team gets out of Glendale, hockey fans in Arizona are still in the survival business, unable to say with clarity whether their favorite team is coming or going. But a billionaire owner is a great place to start.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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